It's an oid-y world out there. Tabloids run factoids about humanoids on steroids. In a world gone synthetic, why should movies offer something as organic as a hero? Welcome, then, to the age of the heroid. In the old days, a - hero like Bogart had brains and guts but also a nagging heart and the seductive scowl of obsession. Often he failed; sometimes he died. He was real: us, with muscles. A heroid, though, is just the muscles. He owes more to comic strips than to romantic or detective fiction. Never really alive, a heroid cannot die; he must be available for the next assembly-line sequel. He is the cyborg chauffeur of mechanical movies.
You can hear the clockwork sputtering inside the brawny breastplate of this week's heroids: Los Angeles supercop Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) in Lethal Weapon 2 and Her Majesty's secret servant James Bond (Timothy Dalton) in Licence to Kill. Both men are rogue avengers, out for bloody justice against cartels that have killed or threatened their partners and spouses. Both pictures, with their suavely depraved drug lords and curt disregard for constitutional safeguards, play like extended episodes of Miami Vice. Both scenarios choose their villains from the current list of least favored nations: South Africa in LW2, a thinly disguised Panama in Licence. "Remember," Bond's nemesis (Robert Davi) warns the film's Noriega, "you're only President for Life."
The dealer-diplomats in LW2 are just your ordinary bad guys. They keep zillions of Krugerrands on hand to finance their chicanery. They have a getaway helicopter conveniently waiting in downtown Los Angeles at the end of a car chase that totals dozens of innocent drivers. Now if only this gang could shoot straight, they might rid the world of Detectives Riggs and Murtaugh (Danny Glover) -- and spare moviegoers further sequels to the loathable smash hit of 1987.
That first movie raised the craft of torture to a low art. Expect no less in LW2, directed by Richard Donner and written by Jeffrey Boam. This installment features a surfboard decapitation, death by carpenter's nail gun, a bomb wired to a very sensitive seat (plot device lifted from Elmore Leonard's novel Freaky Deaky), and reduction of the Afrikaaner diaspora by about one-half. As Riggs tells Murtaugh, "We're back! We're bad! You're black! I'm mad!" Mad to the max. Riggs may not know how to spell apartheid, but he knows whom he hates. He even knows how to strike a blow for American property values. When the Boers perforate his beachside shack, Riggs finds appropriate recourse. He kills their house.
In Licence to Kill, the bad guys' hideaway blows up real good too. And there are some great truck stunts. A pity nobody -- not writers Michael G. Wilson , and Richard Maibaum nor director John Glen -- thought to give the humans anything very clever to do. The Bond women are pallid mannequins, and so is the misused Dalton -- a moving target in a Savile Row suit. For every plausible reason, he looks as bored in his second Bond film as Sean Connery did in his sixth.
Licence's only innovation comes in the closing credits. To atone for Bond's use of cigarettes, the producers print the Surgeon General's caveat on the evils of tobacco. Another warning would have been welcome: CAUTION: EXPOSURE TO HEROIDS MAY CAUSE SUMMER-MOVIE BURNOUT.